On Friday, the University System of Georgia announced it will ask the Board of Regents later this month to sign off on a plan to merge the Marietta-based SPSU with Kennesaw State University, ten miles northwest. The consolidation would need final approval in January 2015.
By Saturday morning, 550 supporters had signed two different petitions on change.org, an online forum that allows people to campaign on a wide range of issues.
“SPSU and KSU merger: Stop the merger” and “Stop Kennesaw State from merging with Southern Polytechnic State” even had parents of enrolled SPSU students and high school seniors who planned to apply to the school voicing their complete opposition to the merger.
Some more outraged comments by the petitioners criticized KSU for being a liberal arts school that was in need of land.
KSU, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in October, is the third-largest university in the University System of Georgia.
Other SPSU students voiced concerns about class sizes increasing and SPSU degrees having a lower value once the merger places both schools under the Kennesaw State University name.
Brady Powers, a software engineering major in his fourth year, said SPSU is a small institution where students are able to easily meet with professors.
“SPSU has a unique culture; after all, we’re a niche school,” Powers said. “I believe I speak for almost everyone at SPSU when I say that we are geeks, and we are proud of that.”
Powers added the SPSU curriculum is focused on teaching skills to apply after graduation in the engineering field.
Former professor: Two schools are like ‘oil and water’
A manager of the “Keep SPSU and KSU Separate” Facebook page, Liv Hood, who also manages SPSU’s radio station, WGHR, said the mission of the two school are completely different.
“We love this college, we all actively didn’t choose KSU because of the academics and atmosphere,” said Hood, who added she thinks the merger could lower the standard of academic excellence SPSU maintains.
KSU President Dan Papp, who will serve as president of the consolidated university, said most, if not all, of the degree programs offered by SPSU will remain, and the high quality of the SPSU education will continue.
Lisa Rossbacher, who has been president of SPSU since 1998, told a group of 200 students gathered outside of the student center Friday afternoon she was not consulted by University System of Georgia and only found out about the merger the day before.
Hood said seeing Rossbacher so shocked and knowing the SPSU staff had not been warned has left her “with a seriously uneasy feeling about even staying at SPSU and not transferring out.”
Roberta Gates, a retired tenured English professor at SPSU, signed one of the petitions Saturday morning.
As the first female faculty member who started with the college in 1962, Gates remembers the history of how the school transitioned over the years.
“I have a real heart for Southern Tech,” Gates said.
Southern Technical Institute was founded in Chamblee in 1948 and moved to Marietta in 1961. In 1970, it became a four-year college. The name was changed to Southern College of Technology in 1987 and changed again to Southern Polytechnic State University in 1996.
Gates taught business and technical writing, as well as literature and poetry until 1986. She said there is no need to expand the amount of liberal arts classes offered to SPSU students.
Gates said she understands the reasoning behind mergers the state has already done, but not the consolidation of SPSU with KSU, which are vastly different types of schools.
The State Board of Regents merged eight Georgia colleges into four in January in an effort to reduce administrative costs and relieve some of the burden on state funding of higher education.
“It is liked trying to mix oil and water,” Gates said. By signing the petitions, “I have to hope that somehow we can make a difference.”
UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA’S SIX PRINCIPLES TO ASSESS POTENTIAL CONSOLIDATION:
1. Increase opportunities to raise education attainment levels.
2. Improve accessibility, regional identity, and compatibility.
3. Avoid duplication of academic programs while optimizing access to instruction.
4. Create significant potential for economies of scale and scope.
5. Enhance regional economic development.
6. Streamline administrative services while maintaining or improving service level and quality.